UCLA political scientists: Political polarization is not as simple as it appears

A photo of an electoral map.

Electoral Map (Photo Credit: Clay Banks/Unsplash)

As President-elect Joseph Biden prepares to take office amid an era of intense partisanship, UCLA political scientists encourage people to adopt a different perspective on the country’s politically polarized landscape.

Lynn Vavreck, UCLA’s Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy, told the audience gathered for a “U Heard it Here” event on Nov. 17, that the emergence of more extreme differences among the public should not solely be attributed to the rise of social media or point-of-view-based cable news, which popularly get a lot of blame.

She and others who have been tracking voter attitudes for decades consistently find that voters tend toward confirmation bias.

“What people don’t understand about American politics is that voters always filter out information that is inconsistent with their prior views,” Vavreck said.

One thing that is definitely driving polarization is the behavior of elite politicians and the growth over the last two decades of more sophisticated and extremely well-funded campaigns.

These increasingly efficient campaign machines allow politicians to be more obstinate about compromise, even though large groups of voters in both parties might support an issue — like background checks on people who want to buy firearms or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, Vavreck said. Both of those things have broad support in both parties, but to differing levels of priority, she noted.

“You have two ways you can go; you can hold out or you can compromise,” she said. “If you compromise you might get some of what you want now, but if you hold out you can see if the power flips and then get everything you want.”

Efrén Pérez, professor of political science and director of the UCLA Race, Ethnicity and Politics Lab who also spoke on the panel, agreed.

“It’s important to contrast what is available for public consumption versus what we know as social scientists,” he said. “A lot of the divisiveness is really among the elites in the parties. There is an enormous sea of individuals for whom politics is kind of a colorful sideshow, they only sporadically interact with it.”

The resistance to compromise is with the power brokers in each party and depolarizing is about showing and convincing those same people that there is broad-scale agreement on some issues, he said. Biden might be able to use his long experience to find common ground on how to respond to the pandemic and heal the economy, something that will affect voters regardless of party preference.

Panelists, which also included UCLA political science professors Erin Hartman and Daniel Thompson, also talked about identity politics at play in 2020, how the pandemic and social justice affected campaign messaging, voter turnout, vote-by-mail and how pollsters fared this time around.

– It’s clear we need better polling of people of color to understand intersecting identities and priorities, Hartman said.

– We have to consider the multiple identities in the voting populace, beyond race, such as “occupational identities,” Pérez said. This likely came into play for Mexican-Americans in Texas border towns who responded to Trump’s law and order messaging because they or family members hold jobs in border patrol or law enforcement.

– Pollsters were right about a lot of things, like Georgia and Arizona being competitive and the way vote-by-mail would shake out by party.

– There were some interesting split votes that bear further consideration, Thompson said. Florida went for Trump, but voters there approved a $15 minimum wage, which was considered too far left for Hillary Clinton to endorse four years ago.

– The pandemic and the havoc it wreaked on the economy changed the Trump message, Vavreck said. Gross domestic product in the first six months of 2020 was dismal, hitting a post-New Deal low. But the stimulus checks meant household income was high, which helped turn out voters for Trump.

– Democrats leaned heavily into the message of social inequality, rising to the challenge of summer protests, and building on decades of effort to position the party as a broad home for voters of color, Pérez said.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf and Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

Chemical biologist receives award for development of imaging technology

Ellen Sletten, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, has been selected as one of four recipients of the 2020 International Chemical Biology Society Young Chemical Biologist Award. The award is given annually to young scientists across the globe who have made significant research and service contributions to chemical biology.

A photo of Ellen Sletten.

Ellen Sletten (Photo Credit: UCLA)

Sletten is being recognized for her development of fluorophore technology that allows for multicolor, real-time imaging in mice, facilitating the translation of optical chemical tools to mammals. She is the first UCLA faculty member to receive the award since its inception in 2013. Sletten received her award and gave a lecture on “Multicolor, High Resolution, Non-invasive Imaging in Mice” during a special “Rising Stars” session at the ICBS 2020 Virtual Conference.

A UCLA faculty member since 2015, Sletten is the John McTague Career Development Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She is a 2019 ACS Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Young Investigator, 2018 Sloan Research Fellow, UCLA Hellman Fellow and NIH Director’s New Innovator.

Sletten’s research group takes a mutidisciplinary approach to the development of molecules, methods and materials to detect and perform chemistries in vivo, ultimately enabling next-generation therapeutics and diagnostics. To learn more about Sletten’s research, visit the Sletten Group website.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of Rong Fu, Karen Sears and Graciela Gelmini.

Three professors named 2020 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

A photo of Rong Fu, Karen Sears and Graciela Gelmini.

From left: Rong Fu, Karen Sears and Graciela Gelmini were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Courtesy of Karen Sears, Rong Fu and Graciela Gelmini)

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is the world’s largest scientific society, named three UCLA College faculty members as 2020 fellows. Since 1874, the AAAS, which publishes the journal Science, has chosen members for their distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

UCLA College’s new fellows are:

Rong Fu, professor and vice chair of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, conducts research on the role of the atmospheric hydrological cycle and its interaction with Earth’s surface in determining the stability of the Earth’s climate at global and regional scales, and applying climate science to support regional decision-making. Her research has focused on topics including the mechanisms that control the rainfall variability over Amazonian and Pan-American monsoon regions and various factors that influence rainfall variability in the recent past and will influence rainfall and droughts in the future. She is being honored for “seminal contributions to the understanding of rainfall and ecosystem interactions, and the scientific application for improving societal drought preparedness at regional scale.”

Graciela Gelmini, professor of physics and astronomy, conducts research on astro-particle physics, especially dark matter. The vast majority of the matter in the universe is dark matter, which so far has been observed only through its gravitational interaction. What dark matter consists of remains one of the most important open questions in physics, astrophysics and cosmology. She is a theoretical physicist who has extensively studied dark matter candidates, as well as the physics of neutrinos. She is being honored for her outstanding contributions “to our understanding of dark matter and the universe.”

Karen Sears, professor and chair of the ecology and evolutionary biology department, harnesses the diversity in mammals to study how evolution works. Her research explores the developmental rules that shape evolution and provide insights into human health. She is being honored for distinguished contributions to biology, “particularly the developmental mechanisms driving morphologic diversification in mammals.”

A total of to 489 scholars were selected as fellows this year. They will be honored Feb. 13, 2021, at a virtual Fellows Forum.

For the full article, written by Stuart Wolpert, please visit the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of Andrea Ghez receiving her Nobel Prize citation and medal.

Andrea Ghez delivers Nobel Lecture, receives Nobel medal

A photo of Andrea Ghez receiving her Nobel Prize citation and medal.

Ghez received her Nobel Prize citation and medal on Dec. 9 in Beverly Hills. (Photo Credit: Annette Buhl)

Editor’s note: This news release was updated Dec. 10 with a new headline and photographs covering the presentation of the Nobel medal. The video of her medal ceremony was added Dec. 11.

“How do you observe something you can’t see?”

Andrea Ghez, who in October won the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics, answers that question and many others in her Nobel Lecture.

Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics and director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group, shared the prize for her discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, where the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere made it difficult to see much of anything.

In the talk, Ghez discusses the research she conducted at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, which houses the world’s largest telescopes. She also recounts a huge leap forward she made in the 1990s, when she helped to pioneer adaptive optics, a powerful technology that corrects the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere in real time.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ghez delivered her lecture in a mostly empty Lani Hall at UCLA. (Photo Credit: UCLA Broadcast Studio/Nobel Prize Outreach)

And she shares the story of how her initial proposal to conduct the research that led to the Nobel Prize was turned down. “People didn’t think it would work,” she recalled. Ghez wrote another proposal to better explain that it would work.

Her lecture, titled “From the Possibility to the Certainty of a Supermassive Black Hole,” was delivered in UCLA’s Lani Hall. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the auditorium was mostly empty at the time. Traditionally, Nobel laureates travel to Stockholm — or Oslo, Norway, in the case of the Peace Prize — to receive their awards. This year, because of the pandemic, their medals are being brought to them.

Ghez received her Nobel diploma and medal Dec. 9 in the backyard of Leichtman and Levine’s home in Beverly Hills. Today, she will participate in a “Nobel Minds” discussion that will stream live on the organization’s website at 12:35 p.m. PST, and she will be interviewed about her research for a Nobel Prize podcast.

Andrea Ghez with Lars-Erik Tindre, representing the Swedish embassy in Washington, D.C., at the presentation of Ghez’s Nobel medal in Beverly Hills on Dec. 9. (Photo Credit: Annette Buhl)

Ghez and fellow Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna, a UC Berkeley professor of biochemistry, were joined by UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily Carter for a webinar on Dec. 16 at 9 a.m. PST. They discussed the science behind their Nobel-winning discoveries, their current research and the significance of their Nobel Prizes for women and young aspiring scientists.

You can view the webinar on the UCLA Connections website.

Doudna shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her role in the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a powerful genome editing breakthrough that allows scientists to rewrite DNA in any organism, including human cells.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom